Thank you Royston Primary

So it finally happened and I got the letter to say I’d been awarded my PhD. Time for celebration after all this time am looking forward to graduating in the summer.

One special group of people who have been involved in my research are the staff and pupils at Royston Primary.  They are my second family – not only have they taught all my children they also supported me from when I first started uni many moons ago now right through even letting me conduct my research in school and helping build my network of other schools to work with.  As well as the research I’ve been running the computing club in there for 5 years now and hope to be back again after the summer. However they invited me to their whole school Friday morning assembly to share my good news with the pupils and well I only though that I was going down just to join in their normal assembly and that but nope whole assembly was for me (I hate fuss and they know it ). Each class made something special for me and their messages were so heartwarming but also made me realise that what I’ve been doing is important.

My beautiful thoughtful gifts from each class.

To me it’s natural now if I’ve time I’d rather be running a club than sitting at home doing nothing the kids really do get so much out of it as do I. I feel like I’m giving back to my community and also deep down hope that I’ll inspire at least one or two to go further in computing or games or even just to genuinely think about their future and know that they can do absolutely anything they set their minds to.  Took me long enough but I’ve finally got that PhD.

To all the staff and children whom I’ve worked with over the past 14 years thank you heres to many more volunteering hours ahead.

Last week

Been a while since I have posted and trying to get back into it again so thought I’d start by sharing a Sway of what I got up to in work last week it definitely wasn’t an average week thats for sure.

As well as the kids I got the chance to show some more things to teachers at a CPD session held at West College Scotland last week which you can read more about here where I had them making music and using jelly babies to make sounds with the Microbits.









Overall it was a great week and I’m seeing the potential of using the Mircobits. The kids loved being able to not only have a program run on screen but also then be able to transfer it to a physical object and have that do something. I’m now looking at making more music (found a cool tutorial that showed me how to do Star Wars – see video below) and seeing what else can be done with them.

The tutorial for Star Wars came from MicroMonsters Youtube page thanks for a great tutorial

Playing the name game.

If I were to say to you who is Daniel Middleton, Jordan Maron, Adam Dahlberg, Tiffany Herrera, Thomas, Beth Bates, David Spencer and Joseph Garrett would you think I was rambling on about a list of people I know?

Would you know them?

OK how about if I say The Diamond Minecart (DanTDM, CaptainSparklez, SkyDoesMinecraft, Ihascupquake, Choochoosgaming, Sqaisheyquack, Iballisticsqud and Stampyylonghead?

Any clearer now?

Who are all these folk?

There are of course YouTubers who have amassed billions of views on their channels and why?


Yes Minecraft that lovely blocky sandbox game,20141113_161325 they all make videos around Minecraft whether it’s gameplay, modding, tips or tricks or even parody music videos these are some of the folk children are watching and talking about. Given all the attention Minecraft is getting at the moment I decided to do a little more research on YouTube and with the help of my daughters (who better to learn from) I discovered more to Minecraft videos than just Stampy and DanTDM. Stampy works with a few folk iBalisticSquid being one of them – they have build challenges a 15 minute section where their followers suggest something for them to build and both take on the challenge with viewers watching one channel or the other. Viewers then vote on who did the best build. The also do quests together amongst other things. Another regular with Stampy is Sqaisheyquack who is a Minecraft helper in Stampys Lovely world but also has her own gaming channel on YouTube too. Others include AmyLee33 and AshDubh. Stampy also has an educational channel as well now called WonderQuest.

ChooChoosgaming is a channel run by Thomas (no full name given) and he uploads regular videos about games he likes to play including Minecraft. iHasCupQuake run by Tiffany Herrera is a channel for all things geek. She covers games, baking and all things creative. SkyDoesMinecraft is another popular channel with over 11 million subscribers waiting patiently for those Minecraft video uploads. Most YouTubers videos are uploaded on a regular basis with the norm being that they are uploading new material on a daily basis. You only have to look at the number of views on their channels to see just how popular they are!

mcutube1 mcutube2

OK so how is this relevant then? Given that Minecraft is so popular just now then why not tap into resources already there? Well as someone who has done some teaching with Minecraft this is another way to get started in the class. What better than to discuss or write about our favourite YouTube personality and look at the work they produce? How about some maths YouTube provide lots of information (number of subscribers/channel views/videos etc) How about making their own Minecraft video in the style of their favourite YouTuber or even just making their own videos? Or artwork on squared paper in the style of Minecraft. Even if you don’t have Minecraft on your computers in school there are still ways that you can use it to inspire children’s’ learning.

Maybe even before the learning in class just learn more about what the children are watching – it’s certainly opened my eyes. Ask the children who they watch and why, then go home and do that yourself. Nothing wrong with admitting to the children you don’t know who x,y or z are but don’t be afraid to learn more about x,y or z that’s how I’ve just spent my weekend.

The following videos I found to be rather amusing I should say but at the same time they are well done – 2 music parody videos. The first a Taylor Swift – We are never ever getting back together parody and the second a parody of Coldplays Paradise well worth a watch.

Just in case you’re still wondering:

Joseph Garrett is Stampylonghead

David Spencer is Iballisticsqud

Beth Bates is Sqaisheyquack

Thomas is Choochoosgaming

Tiffany Herrera is Ihascupquake

Adam Dahlberg is SkyDoesMinecraft

Jordan Maron is CaptainSparklez

Daniel Middleton is The Diamond Minecart (DanTDM)

With thanks to my wonderful daughters who have opened my eyes a little more to all thats YouTubey and Minecrafty! The above are just a few of many YouTubers who make Minecraft videos and once you getting talking to the klds am sure you will find loads more not mentioned here.


So how do we fix this games/computing gender problem?

I posted a short reply to a post on facebook earlier by David Renton on how to get more women into games courses and wanted to compose this post in order to elaborate further. So how do we solve the problem then of getting more girls into games or even computing in an ideal world we stop genderising things whether they are toys, jobs even hobbies. It won’t happen overnight or even at all however it’s a start right?

OK so it’s not the ideal world how can we help change the notion that Computing & Games are for boys. I’m using these since that’s my specific area however I’m sure there will more subject examples dominated by one or the other gender and seen to be girly/boyish. Education I believe plays a part in this and helping demystify some stereotypes. I have for 6 years been researching in primary schools and I firmly believe this is where we need to start. Children learn from an early age and they learn from us. It’s our responsibility as adults to show them the opportunities out there and to show that no matter their gender they can do anything. So why don’t we teach them then how to make games in schools (yes it’s part of our Scottish school curriculum from Primary 5 onwards) and it’s been on my radar for the past 6 years. I’ve been trying on my own to get more children in Glasgow (there are other folk doing fab things across the country) into games by teaching them how to make games using Scratch – in school lessons I should add.  My research focused on working with nearly 400 children between the ages of 8-11 and teaching them and their teachers how to make games. The children worked in pairs and not once did I ever hear/see anything gender related towards the games that were produced. The only gender issue I encountered was a couple of P6 or 7 classes who when told they would be working in mixed gender pairs gave the ever so awkward pre-teen look of how can I work with a boy/girl but after 2 minutes that was forgotten about and awesome games were soon made.

Primary is a very important stage of education as it forms children’s opinions on subjects they like and dislike. By giving children positive experiences of games construction & computing in general. However this then needs to be reinforced throughout secondary school also and children need to be able to have the opportunity to carry on seamlessly from primary to secondary. This is where I had the idea of an event that lets primary and secondary schools work together. A Mini Game Jam – a game jam is where folk get together for 48 hours in the one space and form a team and well, make a game. My idea was shrunk down for the school day. I envisaged that after teaching the children during my research they would have some game making knowledge – enough to make a small game – to be able to work in a team and have some fun while doing so. Hence the Mini Game Jam was born. I am now into year 4 of the event which schools are now starting to see the benefits of. Last year I worked with 300 children over 6 events to spend a day working on a game based on a given theme. By putting the children into mixed teams and not making a fuss about it they worked together side by side as it should be. By showing primary and secondary schools how both can work together for one little part of the curriculum it might help sow some seeds.

Given what I’ve seen during my years of research in schools I don’t believe solely in “women into x, y or z” events. However they may be a short term fix but we need to think long term for these ideas to stick. Also OK why not women only classes for getting more women thinking about the subject I dont mean full on the whole 4 years or that but getting an introduction would maybe be helpful. I chose my subject at university knowing that yes it would probably be male dominated but at the end of the day my choice was based on what I wanted to learn not the male/female ratio in the class.

There isn’t an overnight “Women into “ course and suddenly uptake of FE/HE even Nationals/Highers goes through the roof, no this is a long road and we all must be in it together to work and change attitudes from early years onwards otherwise we will still be having this same old conversation in 20-30 years time.

I know I’m working at it are you?

Background to the Mini Game Jam

JAM2LOGOWhat’s that I hear you ask? Well Mini Game Jam is an idea I came up with in 2013. It’s a very simple idea have Primary children spend a day making games using Scratch with their peers from another school. Yes that’s it. No fuss just fun. Children can not only be consumers of games but they can be creators and that to me is important, having children know they CAN do more than play a game.
But how did I get to that point? Ever since my honours project in 2009 I became interested in teaching children about computing using Scratch – a visual easy to use programming language. Once I moved onto my PhD I shifted focus from simply teaching programming concepts to children to introducing them to Games construction using Scratch. During the research period over a couple of years I was lucky enough to work with over 350 children in 3 schools. I spent 8 hours with each class teaching them how to make a simple game and then let them explore Scratch to either extend their game or create a new one. 350 children created 178 games (pair or group working) and not 1 is identical!!! It was great getting to go into primary schools and work with the children who loved every minute of their lessons didn’t feel like research at all!! From this came my idea, in the final stage of my research I was working with 2 classes from 2 schools and thought it would be great if they could put those skills to use and have both schools work together.
At this point also I was getting more involved in what was happening within the games community in Scotland and was hearing more about the Game Jams that go on. This then gave me the idea why not hold a game jam event for children? On a smaller scale naturally. After persuading both schools my idea would work I made arrangements and on the 19th June 2013, 50 P7 children from 2 schools took part in the first ever Mini Game Jam for Primary children at the University of the West of Scotland. It was a memorable day firstly because when the children were told they were being put into groups with children from the other school I had 50 pairs of eyes saying “that’ll be right”. The jam took part in a big university lab and I was lucky enough to have the help of 4 awesome lecturers. However it worked and it worked well. So much so that I was asked by one of the head teachers if I was doing it again the following year I replied “you must be mental”. It was tiring, it was mentally and physically exhausting but you know what got me through was the children. Seeing how well they worked together, how much fun they were having, it just made those wee daft worries go away. Though deep down I knew that this was the beginning of something pretty amazing. One of the schools I should say is my kids own school and for the past 4 years anything computing related I’ve been helping with (but that’s a previous post!!) Sure enough the next school year appeared and my “you must be mental” quote I must have forgotten about as I had started making plans with the head of the school I help at and from that moment on Mini Game Jam was properly born. See the thing is yes I’ve a great idea and it did work but it needed selling to other schools, that I couldn’t do but with the heads help my idea became a bigger reality and year 2 saw 4 schools from the learning community take part (100 children) and again another great day for all involved. Year 3 is underway but word got out across Glasgow and instead for 4 schools in 1 learning community (Smithycroft) there are now 254 children in 21 schools across 4 leaning communities taking part in 5 events. 4 local event plus a final that’s being held at Glasgow Clyde College Cardonald Campus on June 17th 2015.
I am extremely proud that I’ve came up with an idea that not only hits those elusive Experiences and Outcomes for Curriculum for Excellence (the lessons beforehand take account of the Technologies section and in particular TCH-209a that looks at games design). But it’s about far more than hitting a target. Over the past few years I’ve become very aware of the gender divide from either reading about Women in Computing or Games articles. I’ve saw a lot of get Women into XYZ and yes I do agree Women are underrepresented in fields such as Computing and Games. However the more time I’ve spent studying  the more I realise this is not a priority of mine at the moment. Yes we do need to encourage more women in these subjects but for me the main priority is getting children interested. It’s about getting them interested at an age where they don’t understand that there is a whole gender bias. Where we can educate everyone can do anything and not worry about being a boy or a girl. If we get this right at primary school we surely set children up for a future that looks beyond gender. Not once in any of my research lessons teaching about games construction did children mention anything about that’s a boy’s game or that’s a girl’s game!!! In fact I guess the only gender discussion that happened was at first when the suggestion was made that they work in mixed gender groups. Once the initial shock of that had happened there was no other significant gender results to report. All boys and girls just got on with it and made their games as it should be.
As an outsider to the games discussions I’ve seen – I do consider myself an outsider as I don’t truly feel I should belong to the gaming community being that well my degree is in Computing and I am kind of a newbie when it comes to gaming. I don’t teach games and I don’t make games per say. However I have spent over 3 years researching and teaching children in Primary Schools to make games. To me that’s a big thing. Teaching the next generation of game makers – well maybe not teaching? But inspiring them through the research and through events like Mini Game Jam. Gender should not be an issue and I don’t make it one at Primary level. Education is the way forward to break the gender cycle and it should be the norm for all to be involved in gaming by doing the Mini Game Jam and by introducing game construction in primary schools it should change the way of thinking for all involved in games.
I’d love for more games industry folk to get behind my idea and help me promote the Mini Game Jam. This year it has gotten bigger and there are nearly 300 children involved within Glasgow. A small portion of children attending schools across Glasgow but given in year 1 I had only 50 children taking part this is a great leap for year 3. I hope that for next year the rest of Glasgow Primary schools see the benefit of taking part and many more schools will be having local jams – a model that should be able to roll out across the country for more school to get involved.
A few thanks to folk who have helped me – to Simon Kelly for believing in my idea and helping get it off the ground. To IGDA Scotland for helping get  the word out about my event. To CAS Scotland thanks for getting involved this year and helping out it’s going to be a great but busy few weeks. To all the volunteers who help out at the events the day wouldnt be the same without you. Most importantly though thanks to the schools and to all the children who take part you all make it worthwhile and your enthusiasm means that the children in the year below you want to get to go next year!!